Nutrition - bone health and cancer

Tuesday 08 May 2018

I want to complete the story that I started in a earlier  blog looking at calcium and bone health.  This is a very important topic for several reasons. People receiving treatment for hormone related cancers generally are found to have problems with bone density as hormone levels are reduced by treatment. This is because oestrogen does help with the absorption of calcium into the bones. So when it falls quite obviously this can impact on bone health.

Milk as a source of calcium ?
In the last blog the use of cow’s milk as a form of calcium was questioned. As a result of much research by  expert’s in the field of nutrition and cancer, it appears to be a poor source of calcium in the diet and as a protector against osteoporosis, and that we are recommended to get our calcium from plant based sources as these have been shown to be much more beneficial for bone health. Most plant based sources are fortified with calcium which may strengthen the argument against using cow’s milk.

Milk has been shown to be:

·       Acid forming and therefore depletes bone calcium, like all animal foods. It is important to note that animal foods do provide us with Protein which is essential for so many reasons, we also get protein from pulses, nuts and seeds in the diet. As long as the diet is high in the alkaline forming fruits and vegetables there should not be a problem.

·       Contain 11 different growth hormones including high levels of IGF-1 and VEGF (Vascular endothelial growth factor found in cattle with mastitis, 47% of cows). Whether we absorb these or not is open to debate as I explained last week.

·        Contain 35  different hormones including high levels of oestrogen. Again mixed research on the problems with this.

·       Interestingly milk also contains the carbohydrate lactose, In order to digest lactose we need the enzyme lactase. Radiotherapy to the abdomen or problems with the digestive system as a result of treatment can destroy this enzyme and therefore lead to symptoms of lactose intolerance which includes stomach cramps and diarrhoea.

Calcium is the most abundant mineral found in the body accounting for 2/3rds of the total body weight with 99% deposited in the bones. The other 1% is responsible for a range of metabolic functions that regulate muscle contraction, blood clotting etc. This makes it a very important mineral.

When the diet does not provide sufficient calcium, calcium is borrowed from the bones in order to restore blood levels of calcium to maintain the 1% needed for other functions. This is not usually the problem the problem seems to lie with the fact that our diets are very high in acid forming foods (which includes milk). The body will draw calcium from our bones to neutralise the acid in our blood.

We have been led to believe for years that milk is the answer but it would appear not to be the case. Some cynics would argue that the Government get such a huge revenue from the dairy industry it is to their advantage to keep promoting milk as useful and the adverts on the television promoting yogurts and stringy cheese etc for children would have us believe the same.

Reading some of the China study by Colin Campbell on osteoporosis he records results of 87 surveys using 33 countries which  compared the ratio of a vegetable to animal protein consumption and the rate of bone fractures A high percentage of veg protein to animal protein was found to be associated with a virtual disappearance of bone fractures. Which is quite compelling.

Another study carried out by the Havard university observed over 75000 women for twelve years and concluded that increasing milk consumption did not confer a protective effect from hip and forearm fractures in fact the report concluded that calcium intake from dairy was associated with a higher risk.

It is important to remember that it is not just the amount of calcium in the food that should be considered but whether that form of calcium is available for absorption into the bones. This is called the bioavailability of calcium. In order for the calcium to be absorbed we need vitamin D, magnesium, vitamin K and boron.

So which are the best foods to eat to get our calcium?

·       Dark green leafy vegetables like kale, broccoli, spring greens, cabbage, bok choy, parsley and watercress.

·       Dried fruits like figs and dates. These can be chopped up and eaten with nuts and seeds as a snack or added to muesli.

·       Nuts particularly almonds and Brazil nuts. Great as a snack or chopped and added to salads and ground into nut burgers.

·       Seeds including sesame seeds and tahini which is sesame seed paste that can be used like peanut butter and used to make hummus. Sesame seeds and tahini contain a whopping 680mg of calcium per 100 g. 100mls of milk contains approximately 130mg

·       Pulses including soya beans, kidney beans, baked beans, chick peas, broad beans and lentils.

·       Canned fish where the bones are eaten like sardines and salmon.

·       Other fruits and vegetables including parsnips, swede, turnips, lemons oranges and molasses are useful sources.

So you can see from this list that there are many ways to get calcium and to help protect against osteoporosis without relying on milk.

A word of caution
I must add here though that if you are considering giving up milk in the duet and your cancer care specialist has recommended that you drink milk then do not stop but perhaps include these other foods that have been shown to be beneficial and perhaps show him or her this blog. If you do continue with milk then make sure that you get plenty of alkaline forming foods in the diet like lots of fruits and vegetables, herbs and spices which are all alkaline forming to counter the acid effect that milk can have on our bodies.

 See also calcium and health blog  (2014)

Blog originally written by Caroline July 2014

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